Europe T20 Regional Qualifier: Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Denmark make final four

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Belgium will face Portugal in the first semi-final tomorrow morning at Waterloo, before Spain and Demmark face off in the afternoon match.
Belgium will face Portugal in the first semi-final tomorrow morning at Waterloo, before Spain and Demmark face off in the afternoon match. © Getty

Hosts Belgium and top-ranked Spain went unbeaten through their respective groups to claim the spots in the semi-finals at the first 2024 T20 World Cup European Sub-Regional Qualifier, joined by Denmark along with Portugal, who both finished runners-up on two wins. Just one of the four teams will progress to the European Regional Finals next year, where they will face Germany along with some or all of Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Jersey (depending on whether any those countries manage to secure direct qualification at the 2022 event) to play for the two 2024 berths afforded to Europe.

Belgium will face Portugal in the first semi-final tomorrow morning at Waterloo, before Spain and Demmark face off in the afternoon match. The losers of each semi will the return to Ghent for a bronze medal match on Monday, while winners will contest the final at Waterloo to claim the sole berth at the Regional Finals.

Belgium breezed through their opening fixture against Malta, taking just 12 overs to chase down the target after Gibraltar skipper Balaji Pai's unbeaten 76 had lifted Malta to 139-5, Aziz Mohammad smashing 72 off 29 in the chase as the hosts raced home with seven wickets to spare. They found the going tougher in their next game against Hungary however, despite restricting them to 120-9 in the first innings. Satyadeep Ashwathnarayana struck a maiden T20I half-century for Hungary but only Zeeshan Kukikhel gave him much support as the hosts found regular wickets, Sajad Ahmadzai the stand-out with 3-232 from his quota. The unfancied Hungarians made the home team work for their win however, reducing them to 91-8 in the 18th over before some late hitting from the ninth-wicket pair of Ahmadzai and Murid Ekrami saved the hosts blushes with two balls to spare, setting up a showdown with Denmark for bragging rights in the Group A.

The Danes had brushed aside Hungary and Gibraltar in their first two fixtures, racking up scores of 190-4 and 265-5 after electing to bat first both times, and twice defending comfortably. Left-arm spinner Nikolaj Laegsgaard's promotion to open the batting would pay off handsomely in both matches, his brisk 45 off 28 at the top of the order setting the tone, Hamid Shah and Taramjit Bharaj then both striking half-centuries as the Danes piled on 190-4. Laegsgaard would then bag 3-21 in the second innings as Hungary were bowled out in 15 overs for just 102. Shah and Bharaj would go cheaply against Gibraltar, both falling in James Fitzgerald's first over, but Laegsgaard would smash 91 off 42 including 9 sixes, and find good support from the middle order as the Danes posted their record total. A target of 257 was always likely to prove beyond Gibraltar, and they would barely get half-way there in the end, Laegsgaard and Shah both picking up a brace as Gibraltar struggled to 124-8 in reply.

Both sides were already assured of progression when they met at Waterloo in their final group match, but avoiding the in-form Spanish was prize enough for a hard-fought contest. The Danes elected to bowl first and be made to regret it as Muneeb Mohammad and Aziz Babarkrkhail put on a half-century opening stand, and the hosts would keep the momentum going through the innings despite Denmark finding regular wickets. Chasing 162 for victory the Danes would lose their pinch hitter early, Laegsgaard adjudged LBW to Ekrami four balls in, and it would fall to captain Shah to guide the chase. While he was at the crease the task looked in hand, but when he was caught behind for 58 off Babarkrkhail to leave Denmark at 127-7 after 13 overs the hosts would reclaim the advantage, Khalids Ahmadi and Ahmadzai's death bowling holding off the Danes to seal a 12-run win.

Gibraltar meanwhile took third place in Group A with a narrow win over Hungary, legspinner Iain Latin claiming four wickets and two catches as Hungary were held to 134-8, with Pai again top-scoring for his side in the reply, a run-a-ball 46 from the top of the order laying the platform before Latin struck an unbeaten 22 off 14 from number five even as wickets clattered at the other end to see Gibraltar home with two balls remaining.

On the other side of the draw Spain made comparatively light work of Group B, their opening match against Malta at Waterloo proving the toughest of their three wins as Basil George and Varun Thamotharam struck brisk thirties to see the Maltese post 148-8, but Spanish skipper Daniel Doyle-Calle and off-spinning all-rounder Yasir Ali's 84-run stand for the second wicket set up a largely untroubled chase, Ali finishing unbeaten on 65 to see Spain home with six wickets and eight balls to spare.

Yasir Ali would prove Spain's most valuable player through the group stages, also claiming seven wickets at 7.85 across the three matches. He would chip in 2-12 as the Spaniards held Israel to 114-9 in their second match, Hamza Dar top-scoring in the reply with 39* as Spain chased inside 14 overs, and Ali would again be the stand-out with the ball in their final match against Portugal, claiming 3-4 from four overs as Portugal were bowled out for 77, Doyle-Calle and Chris Munoz-Mills ensuring Spain made light work of the chase.

Portugal were already assured of their semi-final place by then, however, having bested Israel by47 runs in their opening match and held off a spirited chase from Malta to close out an 11-run win despite an impressive all-round performance from Thamotharam. Thamotharam took 3-25 and then struck 57 in the reply, but Najjam Shahzad would match his bowling figures to assure a top-two finish for Portugal.

Meanwhile at Ghent, Malta would bag their first win of the tour in their final group match against Israel, Heinrich Gericke top-scoring for Malta with 48 off 26 to help his side to a total of 136 all out in 19.4, Thamotharam claiming 3-22 in the Israeli reply while Imran Ameer gave up just 13 runs from his four overs as Israel came up 16 runs short.

Israel will thus meet Gibraltar in the first of the consolation play-offs at Ghent tomorrow, while Malta will take on Hungary in the afternoon match, with the winners meeting in the fifth-place play-off two days later and the losers contesting the wooden spoon match.

Meanwhile Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Portugal remain in contention for the top-spot and a berth at the regional finals alongside the winners of the two remaining sub-regionals, both of which are to be held in Finland later this month, with no less than twenty teams chasing the remaining two spots.



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